The Atlanta Falcons look to fill a need at linebacker in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft after losing their defensive leader from last season. After Foye Oluokun agreed to a three-year deal with the Jaguars, the Falcons need depth at the position.
Houston at Florida
Houston in the East-West Shrine Bowl
Coach Prime at Jackson State
A prospect the Falcons could target in the later rounds is James Houston IV, an edge rusher with freakish versatility from Jackson State. Houston is considered one of the top FCS and HBCU prospects in this year’s draft class.
After three productive seasons at Florida, Houston transferred to play for coach Deion Sanders, who was dazzled by Houston's pass-rushing ability. Houston moved to defensive end and it resulted in 16.5 sacks and a first-team All-SWAC selection.
His adaptability prompted Sanders to make comparisons to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons. The comparison to the Dallas Cowboys star rookie is something that Houston does not take lightly. Blitzing is a strength of Houston, and he can relate to the disruptive Parsons. Houston studies Parsons' film - dating back to his college days at Penn State.
"He blitzes so much ... I analyze versatile players in the NFL to see how teams use them and see how they use their versatility to progress as players," Houston told our Bri Amaranthus. "Parsons is a great player. He did phenomenal this year and I cannot wait to see what he's got in the next couple years."
At 6-1 and 225 pounds, Houston is a big, rangy player that uses his length to his advantage. During his pro day, the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end posted a time of 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, performed 22 bench-press repetitions and flashed a 39-inch vertical leap.
Houston is expected to be a third-day NFL draft pick. Atlanta owns four selections in rounds 4-7 of the draft. If the Commanders select Houston, he will become the first HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) player drafted since 2020.
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"I know it's been a tough road for these HBCU guys - being able to get the credibility and acknowledgement of their body of work," Houston told Amaranthus. "Me - coming from Florida to an HBCU - showing that this is a route you can take that won't totally dismantle your whole career. I am happy to be that guy and kick those doors open.
The Falcons have the worst odds (+1900) to win the NFC South division. The Falcons team doesn't regard this season as a rebuild though. Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell is excited to work with new defensive faces under defensive coordinator Dean Pees' system.
Regardless of whether it's first-round or undrafted, Houston would love to be 'a new defensive face'- he is ready for any opportunity to show his talent at the next level.
"I'm a playmaker. I'm going to be in the backfield. I'm going to be a little chirpy," Houston said. "Once I step on the football field, all the other stuff - height, weight- it goes out the window. I'm ready to make a 53-man roster and take whoever's spot I have to take."
Houston certainly has the competitive appetite, versatile skill set and desire to succeed in the league. The Falcons know they have their work cut out for them to get back into the NFL playoffs and Houston could be an exciting prospect with immense upside to add to the roster.